On today’s episode, I’m tackling E is for Escolar and Ecosystems.
What is escolar? Why should you care? Where can you find it and should you eat it? There are two types of ecosystems, marine and terrestrial. Today I’m going to talk about one specific marine ecosystem, coral reefs.
E is for Escolar
Let’s start out by answering a seemingly innocuous question.
What is escolar?
Well, get ready, because there is nothing simple about this fish.
In fact, escolar might be one of the most delicious and dangerous fish in the ocean.
Here are some basics.
Escolar is a large fast-swimming fish found in warm tropic and temperate climates. In the US, think Florida and Hawaii. Escolar is also called walu walu, Hawaiian butterfish, waloo, or white tuna.
Escolar has a firm, rich, oily flesh making it an irresistible and delectable catch. However, that oily content is where the danger lies. Since the escolar’s diet consists of food high in wax esters and escolar have a tough time digesting wax esters, its flesh is super oily.
And super oily fish can be a problem for many consumers.
Note, If you want to know more about wax esters, check out the link in the show notes.
So should you eat escolar?
That’s a personal choice. It is a buttery, melt in your mouth fish. And you may want to gobble it up!
But if you do? You need to know a few things first.
First, the most important thing to know is, where your fish comes from and who your boat captain is. And trust him or her. Not only is that smart business, but you will have no doubt about what you are buying and eating.
Second, only eat six ounces of escolar or less. Period. Do not be a little piggy at the sushi bar.
And now I need to give you a warning.
What you’re about to hear in the next few minutes will either make you laugh or you will be repulsed. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Overconsumption of escolar can lead to abdominal cramps and diarrhea. I’m talking about spending serious time in the bathroom. Think an oily yellowish-orange hot mess. Seriously! This could happen as soon as 30 minutes after eating and last for days. Or worse you could just fart that oily liquid unexpectedly. I am not kidding. This shit happens.
How do I know?
It happened to me. Fortunately, I was at home.
Escolar is called the Ex-lax fish for a reason.
Now if you’re still with me, thank you for hanging and hopefully laughing!
Alright so beyond the oily issue, what else can be said about escolar?
We need to address the reason escolar is being sold on the market if it’s such a problem fish. Well, it’s no secret the seafood industry needs to do something about overfishing. And so there is a huge push to encourage consumers to eat under loved fish. Now I am all about selling underloved seafood. It’s a terrific way to help curb overfishing and selling underloved fish supports small-scale fishermen and communities.
As you probably guessed, escolar is one of those under-loved species—Also the good news is it’s abundant and inexpensive.
But something else needs to be addressed too.
Sometimes escolar is mislabeled and called white tuna. So not only is this inherently wrong, but there are health consequences like those mentioned a few moments ago.
So why would escolar be called anything other than escolar?
Aaaand this is the slippery part of the story.
So first of all, to a chef’s credit, they may be unaware that what they’re buying is escolar. Many chefs don’t buy whole fish, so at the receiving end, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell the difference between escolar or white tuna. Also, not all chefs do the receiving at the restaurant. Sometimes the dishwasher signs the invoice pops the fish in the cooler and goes back to loading the machine. Without checking the fish. I like to think this is a rare occasion, but I’ve seen more of my share of, um, Anthony Bourdain type events in my twenty-three years of working in the food industry. If you recall, Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential was an expose of what happens behind the scenes in the back of the house.
Now the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with the distributor either. Sometimes the fish is packaged incorrectly and is delivered from the docks with the wrong label. Fish processing is done by humans, not robots.
That’s not to say there are no unscrupulous people.
There are indeed duplicitous fishermen and business people in the world. We have modern day pirates, slavery and murder in the seafood industry. But that’s a story for another episode.
Now the other thought I have about escolar being called something other than escolar is a marketing issue.
So think about this. Which of the following two descriptions sound more appetizing?
You’re sitting in a restaurant, sipping wine, stomach growling. The server reads off the daily special:
“Today’s fish special is Grilled Escolar with a Ginger-turmeric Glaze with roasted Sugar Snap Peas.”
Okay, so prior to this podcast, you don’t know what escolar is and you ask the server. So he either knows, or he returns to the kitchen in search of an answer, or worse he takes an order from a six top then heads to the kitchen for your answer, at which point your spouse is glaring because you sent the server away.
Or his daily special sounds like this:
“Today’s fish special is Grilled Hawaiian Walu Walu with a Ginger-turmeric Glaze with roasted Sugar Snap Peas.
See what I mean? Who doesn’t want Hawaiian fish? It sounds exotic!
Now if you order escolar, remember don’t eat more than six ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards and you should be fine. And no more than four pieces of sushi. However, if you have stomach issues in general, you’re not going to love escolar at all.
Now if you see escolar in the display at the grocery, here are a few buying tips.
- At the market, the flesh should be firm, white (not gray) and not flaking apart.
- The fish should smell fresh like the ocean. Don’t be shy about asking to smell your fish. It’s your money! And health.
- Once home, store the fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator which is generally the back.
- Remove the skin before cooking.
- And probably the best way to cook escolar is either on the grill or seared in a hot skillet on the stovetop.
Lastly, worth noting you won’t find escolar at the market in many countries. For instance, Japan and Italy banned escolar. And many countries advise against its consumption because of its supposed toxicity. Escolar like mahi-mahi, shark, tuna and other mackerel species, can also contain histamines, a type of bacterial food toxin, if not handled and stored properly. In the US, escolar is not banned.
So to wrap up, sometimes just knowing is the best news of the day.
E is for Ecosystems
So when you don’t live near the ocean, theirs is plenty to think about other than what’s happening below the surface. Unless you work in the industry or are a seafood nerd, right? But you probably have seen the ocean. Some of you have snorkeled or are certified scuba divers.
I’m going to fill you in on how I connected with the oceans and coral reefs and then we’ll dive in to discover some amazing things about coral reefs, a few challenges, and some solutions.
So, Wyland, the American artist known for his famous outdoor murals featuring whales and other sea creatures, said, “all of us, at one time or another, find ourselves drawn to the sea.”
And for me, that moment was during the summer of 1975. I was fourteen years old when Mom and four of my sisters drove from our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to Ocean City, MD. Once I saw the deep blue water on the horizon and dug my toes into the sand and felt the cool wetness beneath the hot surface at the beach, I knew that one day I would live near the ocean.
And while I had many other beach vacations over the years, it took another fourteen years before I moved to Florida where I lived and worked for the next twenty-three years.
For the first ten years, I managed a breakfast and lunch restaurant in the Florida Keys. When I wasn’t slinging bacon and eggs, I fished for tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi on the open sea, grouper and snapper along the canals and in the backcountry, tarpon, and cobia under the Seven Mile Bridge. I snorkeled in the warm turquoise waters along the Florida reef where a 3D technicolor world of brightly colored corals and tropical fish coexistence with sharks and barracudas, sea cucumbers and eels.
And all those years I snorkeled up and down the Florida reef, throughout the Bahamas, in the Turks & Caicos, even the Red Sea at the tip of Israel, I never went scuba diving. Mostly because at that time, I was an avid mountain snow skier and without unlimited funds and time, I opted for the best of both worlds. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an appreciation for what lies in deep blue sea, it just means I rely on photographers and explorer’s who do travel down to the deepest parts of the ocean to color my stories.
One of the most famous and prolific ocean divers of our time is American biologist and ocean conservationist Sylvia A. Earle.
Sylvia is my ocean hero. And if you are familiar with her work, then I’m betting she is yours too.
So what has Sylvia’s seventy years of diving and ocean conservation shown us about the coral reefs around the world?
First, let’s dive into what a coral reef is and its significance is to the health of our blue world.
Coral reefs are the most diverse of all the marine ecosystems. They cover less than one percent of the earth’s surface yet one-quarter of all marine species rely on coral reefs for food and shelter.
According to the Smithsonian, “The value of coral reefs has been estimated at 30 billion U.S. dollars and perhaps as much as 172 billion U.S. dollars each year, providing food, protection of shorelines, jobs based on tourism, and even medicines.”
Coral reefs survive natural destruction like tsunamis and hurricanes but may not survive man-made destruction like global C02 emissions and warming ocean temperatures.
- Yet according to WWF, we have lost almost 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs.
- 80 percent of the coral species in the Caribbean have been destroyed. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is the largest reef in the world and is visible from space. But the GBR is in trouble.
- The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is the largest reef in the world and is visible from space. But the GBR is in trouble.
Humans are responsible for much of the destruction of coral reefs—think plastic pollution, overfishing, ocean acidification and the introduction of lionfish, an invasive species which I’ll discuss later in the year under L is for Lionfish & Lobster.
So what is being done to protect this beautiful otherworldly environment?
- Well, some species will survive and thrive adapting to these changes. Scientists propose solutions from building shade panels over reefs to adding lime to the water to gardening new manmade reefs to attract fish and providing food and habitat for many marine species.
- Scientists propose solutions from building shade panels over reefs
- Adding lime to the water
- Gardening new manmade reefs to attract fish and providing food and habitat for many marine species.
- Mostly, though, it’s up to us to make changes today for our children’s futures.
So last thoughts and a quick note about my ocean hero, Sylvia Earle and her mission. Sylvia created the Mission Blue Alliance. She also created designated Hope Spots, those places around the world that are critical for the health of our planet.
Watch Sylvia’s TED Talk (link below) to find out more about this special program. And then head over to Mission Blue and vote to designate your favorite Hope Spot.
Use whatever resources you have to spread the word about what is happening to our beautiful blue planet and oceans.
Share this podcast with your family and friends and on your social media.
And when you enjoy a day at the beach and dig your toes into the sand, remember that our earth relies on you and your choices to keep that ocean water underneath the surface of the beach cool and healthy.
Thanks for listening.
Next up F is for Farmed Fish & Faux Fish.
And have a great two weeks.
- How to Eat Escolar and Not Crap Your Pants
- Ex-lax Fish
- The Center for Food Safety
- Smithsonian Coral Spawning Video
- Coral Reef Global Issues
- WWF Fast Facts
- NOAA Artificial Reefs
- How to Help the Great Barrier Reef Tech Times
- Sylvia Earle’s Hope Spots
- Sylvia’s TED Talk
- How Climate Change Affects Our Oceans
- Large Sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find
- The Reef 2050 Plan